Biography of John Dudley

John Dudley c.1960

Born 1933 in Sawbridgeworth, England, as Richard John Dudley Wheeler (John Dudley is his stage name).
Accomplished puppeteer and stage magician.
Toastmaster and M.C.
Comedy magician well versed in children's entertainment and adult cabaret.
Member of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild since 1943.
Member of the Magic Circle since 1958.
Elevated to Gold Star Membership of the Inner Magic Circle in 2002, in recognition of outstanding performing ability, particularly with children.
Past chairman and honorary life member of the Concert Artistes' Association.
Famous for his touring marionette theatre, The Dudley Marionettes.
Well known for his glove puppet theatre The Dudley Telepuppets.

Always interested in the stage, Mr. Dudley gave his first public performance (glove puppets) when he was 9 years old, and began a life-long interest in conjuring at 12 years. After appearing in plays at Bishop's Stortford College, he decided to make the stage his career. Later he discovered it was a uncertain life, and joined the R.A.F. as a catering officer. He was, however, still able to use his entertainment talents, and was made chief director of the Aden Forces Broadcasting Association in Aden, Yemen (in which capacity he used to receive the large Goon Show transcription discs from the BBC, for local broadcast). As an impresario, both before and after The Telegoons, Mr. Dudley was one of the presenters of Beat Groups in the UK. After working on BBCtv's The Telegoons, Mr. Dudley continued working with his touring puppet company, The Dudley Marionettes (see below). However, by the mid sixties, 'times they were a changing' and puppet theatre venues were closing. In addition, the cost of touring was rising, so Mr. Dudley sold his marionettes and theatre, and returned to his catering career for a time. Mr. Dudley's puppetry interest reverted to his glove puppet show, The Dudley Telepuppets (so-named in 1960, and no connection to The Telegoons), with which he was to give literally thousands of performances to children from ages 3 to 9. The Dudley Telepuppets plays always contained a moral, such as don't talk to strangers and keep Britain tidy. During this time Mr. Dudley worked his day job as a lecturer in catering, while he and his Telepuppets also worked most nights, weekends, and most holidays, continuously. 

Possibly as a result of all of this activity, at some point in the 1980s or 1990s, Mr. Dudley found himself owner of a self catering accommodation complex in North Devon, complete with cottages, apartments, indoor swimming pool, games room, etc.  

In 1997, after more than 55 years in the world of variety, cabaret, and children's entertainment, John Dudley announced his retirement. However, in the year prior to his retirement, John Dudley played 434 performances with magic and his glove puppet theatre, The Dudley Telepuppets. This large number of shows probably set some type of record. He currently enjoys a quieter life somewhere in North Devon.

Web Site:
You can link to John Dudley's Web of Magic web site here.

Specific Projects:
John Dudley's puppet company, The Dudley Marionettes, was the largest touring marionette theatre in the UK during its prime. The two-hour show which was fully equipped with stage lighting and a sound system, included 200 puppets. 

The Dudley Marionettes' performance schedule in the summer of 1963 was busy, if not strenuous. Following two weeks of rehearsals, there was a Caravan Theatre on June 15th for the Coventry Gala and Carnival, and again on June 22nd for Marconi at Chelmsford. The summer season at the Winter Garden Pavilion in Eastbourne began just two days later, presenting a show entitled 'Stars on Strings' (see Bill below). The performances drew crowds of children and parents, with weekly audiences totaling about 3000 at the season's peak. 

The Winter Garden Pavilion, Eastbourne, East Sussex,
as it looked during the Dudley Marionettes' 1963
summer season.
Photograph & illustration courtesy of John Dudley


John Dudley presented a special adaptation of 'The Tempest' at the 400th Shakespeare Centenary at Stratford-on-Avon, May 1965.

He also played one of the leads in 'Henry V' with the Company of Suffolk Players when it toured during one summer.

Employed as chief puppet manipulator at Grosvenor Films for BBCtv's puppet series, The Telegoons, John Dudley was involved with the first seventeen episodes (January to May, 1963). Some of The Telegoons background sequences borrowed puppets from The Dudley Marionettes.

Miscellaneous Achievements:
Although John Dudley has never met Spike Milligan, he has had occasion to meet Sir Harry Secombe, and (as chairman of the Concert Artistes' Association) also met Peter Sellers.

John Dudley considers one of his great achievements was to have presented his show for the Jordanian Royal Family, at the Royal Palace, Amman. 

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